Over the last decade, there has been quite a resurgence in crime movies in both America and England. Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, The Usual Suspects, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and the recent Snatch have all helped to revitalize and popularize the genre. Circus is most definitely a direct product of this resurgence. One need look no further than the first two scenes of the film to see this influence, as the opening scene involves a card game that seems to closely resemble that in Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and the next scene is most certainly reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs, if not a Mike Tyson fight.
The main character in Circus is a compulsive gambler named Leo who is brought in to run a gangster's casino for a week, after the previous manager makes a mistake which causes him great harm. A bit formulaic, Leo dreams of making the cliched one last score before he takes Lily to Mexico to retire. He reluctantly agrees to run the casino for a week, but is soon involved in a scam in which he has become the unsuspecting victim, but which has also involved the disappearance of the girlfriend of Moose, Leo's boss Bruno's bodyguard/ enforcer. Added to the mix are Casper, Bruno's henchman who holds a torch for Lily; and Elmo, an American who comes to England to find Lily, for whom he still holds a candle, and with a debt to a bookie/ loan shark named Troy that has gone unpaid, Leo finds himself in the middle of it all and in grave danger from all sides.
While Circus is without a doubt a member of the new gangster genre, the filmmakers have attempted to take the film in a couple of interesting directions. First, the film seeks to go above and beyond the number of plot twists and turns one may expect in a film like this and leaves the audience guessing for much of the second half of the film, who is scamming whom. While this does keep the film from being somewhat predictable, it seems that the film takes an excessive number of turns, appearing to make such plot twists solely for their own sake and to give the audience the ending it was likely hoping for. The problem, however, is that by the time the audience has been taken there, they will likely have tired of the ride. Nevertheless, screenwriter David Logan's ambition is commendable, even if at times misguided.
The second interesting dynamic of the film is its casting, which was truly accomplished on a multi-national level. The film combines John Hannah (who is Scottish and was last seen in The Hurricane), Famke Jannsen (who is Dutch and was recently in X-Men), Peter Stomare (who is Swedish and recently in Armegeddon), Amanda Donahoe (who is actually English) Eddie Izzard (who is a big comedian in England and among those in the know in the U.S. but was actually born in Yemen) and American actors Fred Ward and Tiny Lister, Jr. (from Friday). The film is most definitely bolstered by a number of strong performances, and the interesting casting decisions do work out for the best, as the characters appear to have a great chemistry in the film. Particularly enjoyable in the film is Izzard who plays a bookie/ loan shark named Troy who has a penchant for singing, even when threatening the lives of those who fail to pay him. While Izzard has had minor roles as a bad guy before in films such as "The Avengers"' and "Mystery Men," his role in this film is much more developed and he has the opportunity to play a character who can become ruthless and violent when absolutely necessary. Even when such ruthlessness is necessitated, however, Izzard appears to be having a great time in the role, and is quite entertaining onscreen. Also surprisingly enjoyable is Fred Ward as Lily's jilted Texan ex-lover Elmo, who seems through flashbacks of being chronologically the first person to have been screwed over in this sea of double and triple crossings.
One final note should be made to mention the most unlikely of stars east of Wilson the Volleyball: Leo and Lily's apartment. With a bed that is raised high into the rafters and an amazing sense of style, everything about this apartment is cool and it is truly one of the more remarkable elements of the film.
Circus is presented in Widescreen Anamorphic video presentation. While the picture presentation isn't extremely sharp, there are few problems whatsoever in the transfer. The colors appears fairly true to form, and there are no major problems with pixelation.
The sound transfer on this DVD is in Dolby Digital 5.1. The sound seems to be balanced fairly well, although there are many variations in the sound levels, particularly in the first 30 minutes of the film, which was a bit frustrating and necessitated constant increasing and decreasing of the volume. The film
seems to have an especially hard time dealing with the artificial voicebox of one of the characters, as he is quite difficult to hear at times. As the movie goes on, the sound seems to improve though.
While the DVD contains talent files and trailers the main additional features included on the DVD are a making-of featurette, a handful of deleted scenes and the commentary track from writer David Logan and the film's producer, Alan Latham. These supplement the film nicely, demonstrating the experiences of the actors and filmmakers during the filming of this movie, and what it was about the movie that attracted such a fine cast. The roughly six minute featurette does a good job taking the viewer behind the scenes, featuring interviews with virtually every major cast member about the film and lots of footage from its filming. Slightly less promotional than other making-of featurettes, this supplements the film well.
While none of the deleted scenes contained on the DVD would have drastically altered the film through its inclusion, these scenes, often extended version of scenes or notions that made it into the film, are fairly interesting. Watching these scenes, it is clear why some of them were cut- namely, they failed to materially advance the storyline. Nevertheless, a couple of these scenes seem to bring a further depth to these characters, particularly a couple of the scenes between Lily and Caspar. Others don't do much for the film or the characters, however, a filmmaker erring on the side of overinclusion when it comes to deleted scenes is never that bad a problem. While the deleted scenes do not shed any major new light on the film, are not as sharply finished as the scenes in the film and contain running counters below each scene, they are a nice addition, overall.
A very enjoyable additional feature on the DVD is the commentary track by Logan and Latham. These two individuals obviously had a good time both in the making of the film and in the recording of the commentary track. While they seem a bit overly obsessed with the locations used in the film and the actual distances between settings that are supposed to be adjacent to each other, the two filmmakers do offer a lot of insight and many anecdotes regarding the film and its cast. Surely the fine multinational cast in this film is no accident, and the filmmakers discuss the actors who got the roles and how they came to be involved in the film, along with singing praises of the actors and their performances in the film. The two have an eye for detail in watching the film, for instance they point out that a pivotal scene in a movie theater is actually taking place in a different theater and that the movie being shown has been changed from Diabolique (the french version, not the Sharon Stone version) to The Lady from Shanghai because the cost was prohibitive, despite the fact that the many plot twists, turns and corkscrews in this film seem to vaguely resemble the tone and twists of Diabolique.
Although the many plot twists and turns can be a bit excessive, and the film is constantly drawn into the cliches of the genre which it emulates along the way, Circus can provide an enjoyable 95 minute ride through the new London Gangster Genre. While this film doesn't seem to hold up well against successive viewings, and the special features on this DVD provide only about two hours twenty minutes of bonus materials, I would recommend renting this film.